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Clifford Chance future trainee uproar as firm cancels funding for Professional Skills Course

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Exclusive: Policy switch has left students struggling to make ends meet

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Future Clifford Chance lawyers have been left fuming after the magic circle outfit revealed it won’t be paying them to attend a compulsory week-long course prior to commencing their training contracts.

The Canary Wharf-based corporate giant informed its 2016 trainee intake last week that it would not be offering compensation for their time spent on the Professional Skills Course (PSC), leaving them around £800 out of pocket.

The course, that takes places after students have finished the Legal Practice Course (LPC), must be completed before trainees can commence their training contracts.

Clifford Chance covers LPC fees and pays its future lawyers a maintenance grant of of £8,000 for the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and £7,000 for the LPC. And until now it has paid a financial contribution to cover students during the PSC. Legal Cheek understands that rival firms are continuing to cough up this cash.

With trainees at the magic circle outfit starting on a hefty £42,000, rising to £47,300 in their second year, many Legal Cheek readers may be reaching for the world’s smallest violin right now.

But hear the future CC trainees out. They had budgeted for their maintenance grant to take them from early July this year right through to the end of February 2016 — the duration of the accelerated LPC — when they are due to commence their training contracts.

Told of the policy change last week by the firm’s student representatives, the members of Clifford Chance’s February intake who don’t have alternative means of financial support have now been left scrambling to cover next month’s rent.

According to Legal Cheek spies, one future trainee, having raised the issue with the magic circle firm’s HR department, was allegedly told bluntly to “get a loan”.

With future Clifford Chance trainees strictly forbidden from taking part-time work, and loans not easy to come by for all students at short notice, perhaps the anger is justified.

With concerns of an impending trainee revolt, the magic circle outfit has offered those students who are due to start in early 2016 a small advance on their substantial salary. However that’s simply not enough, according to one London-based law student we spoke to, who told us that the firm has offered a figure of around £250 — a long way short of a month’s rent in the capital.

Asking to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals from the firm’s bosses, the lawyer-to-be accepted that he was in a privileged position having bagged one of around 100 training contracts the firm offers each year. Despite this, he did have wider concerns regarding Clifford Chance’s decision and impact it will have on access to the profession. He explained:

I think it’s pretty hypocritical of the firm though to make such a big deal of the efforts they make to expand accessibility to the profession, and to then make life so difficult for those of us who can’t turn to mummy and daddy to pick up the bill.

When contacted by Legal Cheek, Clifford Chance acknowledged the future trainees’ complaints but declined to address them specifically, with a spokeswoman issuing this statement:

Clifford Chance offers generous support to our future trainees whilst they are in training, before they join the firm.

40 Comments

Anonymous

this goes beyond 1st world problems.

not a shit was given

(20)(27)

Anonymous

But one was deposited in the pool

(18)(3)

Anonymous

They’ll really struggle to find a bank manager willing to give them a short term loan…

(17)(2)

Anonymous

Entitlement mentality strikes again. I feel like an old man typing this, but I’m sure students weren’t so incapable of independent thought and deed in days gone by.

Perhaps the students concerned should thank their lucky stars that (a) they have a TC, and (b) they have a lucrative TC in which they get paid twice the national average wage to train. Stop whingeing and stick it on a credit card for a month or something – it’s not as if the firm have removed funding for the LPC.

(24)(22)

Not Amused

Actually it looks rather more like unilateral variation of a contract by an employer. That tends to be frowned on by employees no matter which century they are born in.

(52)(4)

Anonymous

Surely their employment hasn’t commenced yet?

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Surely their contract commences when signed two years ago, not when TC begins?

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Well said sir!

(0)(1)

Anonymous

It’s not really a simple matter of just “sticking it on a credit card”- a lot of future trainees may already be significantly into their overdraft, and by the way, most major high street banks won’t issue a credit card unless you have an income of more than £10K per year as a minimum. An LPC grant does not qualify as “income” for these purposes- I know because I have tried to get one and been refused!

(0)(0)

Not Amused

Errr…

I think it’s important to note this decision will have been made by HR and not lawyers: because what is a ‘policy change’ to HR is a ‘breach of contract’ or ‘gives rise to an estoppel’ to actual lawyers.

I think LC needs to contact a lawyer at CC and not the HR department …

(23)(2)

Boh Dear

Change of policy is distinct from a unilateral variation of contract. Whether the change of (presumably *a*) policy amounts to a breach of contract will depend upon whether or not the particular contractual provision is deemed ‘apt for incorporation’ [into the contract].

The effect? What is a ‘policy change’ to HR may also be just that to a lawyer. Interesting to see what level of thought they have put into this though, and whether there has been a thought out change to *a* policy, change to the actual contract, or just a change *in* policy.

(3)(1)

Boh Dear

Oops. Swap contractual provision for ‘clause in the policy’. Thanks.

(0)(0)

Not Amused

“Change of policy is distinct from a unilateral variation of contract.”

I am genuinely unsure why you felt the need to state that. My argument requires this to be true. I also think it is pretty apparent and uncontroversial.

I’ve given my view so I’ll just wish you a Happy Christmas and hope your New year’s resolution is to be mildly nicer.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Whichever way you word it, the issue is less about the change and more about the fact that it’s a change related to a mandatory requirement, and one done without serious notice.

furthermore, it’s an absolutely bizarre move – one can only assume to save money, and seems completely counter-producive. HR at CC have shot themselves in the foot – if I was about to be a trainee there, I would move, on principle, the day my TC was over.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Lets see the contract before arguing the speculated terms.

(2)(1)

Boh Dear

Seasons greetings to you too NA.

I felt the need to make that somewhat tautological statement because you equated the two as being the same “because what is a ‘policy change’ to HR is a ‘breach of contract’ or ‘gives rise to an estoppel’ to actual lawyers”. This is incorrect and I felt the need to highlight this, since you’re so much against misinformation and the like getting out.

(1)(0)

ace frehly

PSC must be completed before end of training contract, before admission to the roll, not prior to starting TC.

Unless something has changed in last 2 years?

(17)(1)

Anonymous

You are correct. It would have taken the author under 30 seconds on Google to discover what the Professional Skills Course is and when you are supposed to tackle it.

(10)(0)

Anonymous

What you say is correct, but many big firms make their trainees do the PSC before they start their TCs to get it out of the way (presumably before it gets in the way of midnight photocopying sessions)

(7)(0)

Anonymous

No matter how you look at it, the 7K is not enough for the 9 months between the start of their LPC to their first pay cheque, it is London after all.

And I guess loans aren’t available for everyone, after all there still would be a number of hurdles to jump through before getting that first pay cheque, and from experience many people will already be in the very depths of their overdrafts. Not everyone has the bank of mummy and daddy!

Such a late decision on this payment only adds to insult when it seemed all along that the individuals would get paid.

(32)(2)

Nobody

You complete the PSC during your TC, and must have completed it before being admitted.

Source: I’ve still got 3 PSC electives to go

(5)(2)

Anonymous

Different firms have different rules. CC and my firm (another MC firm) require trainees to complete it before they start.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

It’s taken a while to decypher this article.

Initially I thought that the firm wasn’t covering the PSC costs (which would be completely out of line with the market), but having re-read it now seems that the firm will not be paying trainees a wage during the period that they sit their PSC before starting their first seat (which is also completely out of line with the market).

I trained at a comparable firm and recall joining the firm two weeks before the first seat actually started, one week of which was spent doing a couple of PSC modules at College of Law. It seems that CC have simply brought this course forward and/or deferred the employment start date for trainees at the firm. The SRA’s website states that “The PSC should normally be undertaken during a period of recognised training”, so CC’s move appears to be inconsistent with this. It’s bad form.

(18)(1)

Anonymous

Jeeeeze, they get paid better than most people in the UK. Will rake it in for most of their lives. Never know what many people have to go through to make ends meet, including lawyers in provincial firms, and they moan about having to stump up for their PSC course! I am sobbing that they have it so hard. We need to start some sort of relief fund for them, I’ll contact JustGiving right now.

(6)(17)

Anonymous

Confidence in receiving high payment in the future doesn’t buy food or travel today.

(19)(1)

Anonymous

I, for one, could not give the contents of my big knickers.

(2)(7)

Anonymous

I struggle to understand why anyone, if they have the choice, would go to CC above any other MC firm.

(14)(27)

Anonymous

Maybe it’s the on-site swimming pool

(6)(0)

Anonymous

Most trainees at CC didn’t seem to get any other MC offers.

(15)(26)

Anonymous

CC vs Latham & Watkins?

(0)(3)

Future CC trainee

Correction: quite a few of us did.

(7)(3)

Anonymous

You can’t compare it to FF or Links though.

You have people at FF/Links with 3+ MC offers. If you had an offer from FF, Links, S&M and CC, I wouldn’t like the odds on CC winning out.

Also, word on the grapevine is that CC is trying to nab first year undergraduates.

(3)(5)

Anonymous

To avoid snobs like you! You can keep your “prestige”, we’re earning (and will continue to earn) more dolla than you!

(0)(0)

Anonymous

You suggest they will have budgeted for the year? Like arse they have…

(7)(0)

Anonymous

Lolsies.

Think of their starving families.. That they don’t have.

For just £3 a month you can sponsor a PSC trainee.

(7)(4)

Anonymous

The PSC is a fundamental part of the TC and has to be done within the TC itself so the firm should pay. No employee, anywhere, should have to pay for their own compulsory training…

(4)(1)

Anonymous

This may be a controversial comment, but the grants given to future trainees by City firms just aren’t enough in my opinion. Yes, they look extremely generous on the face of it, but how is £7,000 going to cover 7-10 months of rent in the capital (including a minimum deposit of £1000), plus living expenses? Firms pay lip-service to “social mobility” but in reality most people can’t move to the capital by living off an LPC grant- most of my future trainee friends are still living with their parents and commuting to law school. Unsurprisingly, this means that people who can afford to take this route are either those from the Home Counties or whose parents can afford to top up their rent on a flat in London…

(13)(0)

Anonymous

I don’t there is anything controversial about this comment.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Some firms don’t even pay maintenance but still make you do your LPC in London.

It would be great for the law firms to offer interest free loans to students which can be paid back during the TC directly from wages.

(3)(1)

Anonymous

Simmons does this.

(1)(0)

Comments are closed.